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15 November 2010

Inspectorates criticise ‘unsustainable’ indeterminate sentences and call for ministerial review

The Prison Reform Trust welcomes the publication of a thematic review of sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate, which branded the present position in regard to these disastrous IPP sentences as “unsustainable”.

The review finds that, despite recent moves to restrict the range and scope of the sentence, a high number of IPP prisoners remain in the system and continue to enter it, and that neither the Probation Service or Prison Service have the capacity to handle the situation effectively.

Inspectors now call for a major policy review at Ministerial level “to consider whether the resources needed to manage these sentences properly are proportionate to the benefits they might achieve”.

The review follows repeated warnings by the Prison Reform Trust that IPPs introduced by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act were leading to a crisis that neither the Prison Service, Probation Service or the Parole Board were equipped to handle. In 2007 the Prison Reform Trust published a briefing, Indefinitely Maybe? How The Indeterminate Sentence For Public Protection is Unjust and Unsustainable, which called for an urgent review into the use of the sentence and how it was being administered in prisons. The Lord Chief Justice, the Chairman of the Parole Board, the Prison Governors Association and the Chief Inspector of Prisons have all offered substantive criticism of the IPP sentence since its introduction.

Offending behaviour courses, offered as the one way to progress your sentence and demonstrate reduced risk, are in limited supply with long queues for these and for Parole Board reviews. People who are mentally ill, on medication or have a learning disability are effectively barred from these courses and barred from the only route out of this awful maze. A previous thematic review by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and Probation, The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection, published in 2008, described the predicament of prisoners being unable to access the interventions they needed as Kafkaesque, and recommended that “interventions to reduce risk are adapted to be suitable for those with learning disability or difficulty”.

In 2008 the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in response to evidence submitted by the Prison Reform Trust, stated:

We are deeply concerned that the evidence indicates that, because of a failure to provide for their needs, people with learning disabilities may serve longer custodial sentences than others convicted of comparable crimes.

A number of MPs are taking up the concerns of their constituents who find themselves affected by the IPP sentence. Andrew Stunnell MP will today table an EDM on the issue following the Inspectorate’s report and submissions made by the Prison Reform Trust.

Commenting on the findings of the review, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

This review offers further evidence of the chaos the ill-thought-out IPP sentence has caused in the criminal justice system. The government’s response has veered between bravado and blankness. On the one hand it has boasted publicly about its toughness in introducing the sentence. On the other it has blanked out the damage to individuals and their families trapped in a maze with no exit, and ignored the operational chaos caused on prison landings by the massive new load the sentence entails. 

While you can never eradicate risk, it must be possible to identify the few genuinely dangerous people amongst the thousands we stack up and leave to rot on indeterminate jail sentences, which in itself is a dangerous and stupid thing to do. The government has played gesture politics while neglecting its management responsibilities to the prison system.


  1. For a copy of the first joint report into indeterminate sentences for public protection, published in October 2008, click here
  2. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 established two new indeterminate sentences, Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) for adults and the parallel sentence of Detention for Public Protection (DPP) for children and young people under 18. These sentences became available to the courts in April 2005. These new sentences were similar to a life sentence of imprisonment in that: the court set the minimum term, or tariff, which had to be served before the release date could be determined by the Parole Board; offenders were not released until they had satisfied the Parole Board that they could be safely managed in the community; after release, offenders were subject to a life licence and could not apply for it to be suspended for at least 10 years.
  3. By 31 December 2009, 5,788 individuals had received one of these sentences, of whom only 75 have been released and stayed out. IPP prisoners now constitute about one in fifteen of the total prison population. 2,393 individuals have now served past their tariff date.
  4. A tariff is the period imposed by the judge as the due punishment for their crime. After that date the prisoner can only be released when the Parole Board decides that he/she can be safely managed in the community – in the meantime the prisoner is in effect serving preventive detention.
  5. Following the implementation of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 in July 2008, the rate of new IPP sentences being passed fell by around a half – from an average of 141 a month to an average of 70 per month. The numbers held in prison, however, continued to rise because of the continuing slow rate of release.